AUSTRALIA V WEST INDIES 1ST TEST PREVIEW

The first two Tests between Australia and New Zealand resulted in a gluttonous feast of run-scoring: 3,104 runs scored in total, including 11 centuries and not including any five-fors. The third Test, played under lights for the first time, bucked this trend in spectacular fashion. Undoubtedly aided by the pink ball, unfamiliar atmospheric conditions and a pitch produced to help ensure the experiment was a success, neither side was able to better Australia’s first innings effort of 224.

Tellingly, no centuries were scored; Peter Nevill’s 66 was the highest score of the match and one of only three half-centuries. A pair of five-wicket hauls came from one of each side’s opening bowlers, Josh Hazlewood and Trent Boult, in what must have been a relief from the toil of the previous two Tests.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s tour to India has unravelled in an equally unpredictable fashion – but there the similarities end. On challenging wickets, South Africa have as yet found no answers to the questions posed by Ravi Ashwin and his fellow spinners. They have so far only managed 200 in a completed innings once – and that was in a match lost to rain after only two days of play.

From the ignominy of being bowled out for 79 in 33.1 overs in Nagpur, they are at the time of writing, in the fascinating position of having batted 72 overs for 72 runs in the hope of a reputation-salvaging draw. Against New Zealand in Brisbane, David Warner and Joe Burns combined to score 245 runs off of 236 balls at a strike rate of 103.81; on the other side of the world, Hashim Amla has faced 207 balls for 23 runs (SR 11.11) on his own, with more to follow on day five.

After two series of quite remarkable extremes, it is perhaps fitting that the world of Test cricket will now turn its collective head to a more sedate part of the world: Blundstone Arena, Australia’s southernmost Test venue and its most temperate. Nestled in Hobart’s peaceful Eastern suburbs, the ground formerly known as Bellerive Oval is one at which Australia will expect to complete a routine victory over the West Indies.

That said, Hobart has hosted only 11 Tests in the 26 years since its first, so it is hard to define patterns or make accurate predictions about the kind of match it will be – except to say that of those 11 matches, Australia have won eight drawn two and lost only one. Interestingly, all three of the results that Australia didn’t win were against New Zealand; visiting Kiwis have likely found local conditions pleasingly akin to their own country. These numbers will not inspire huge levels of confidence in the West Indies camp, especially after their recent warm-up loss to a CA XI containing no fewer than 6 debutants.

The good news for both West Indies and neutral observers alike is that Bellerive has been the site of some encouraging performances by visiting cricketers. Consider the last five Tests there: most recently, in 2012, Tillakaratne Dilshan scored 147 out of his side’s first innings 336. Before that, in 2011, Doug Bracewell bowled New Zealand to victory, taking 6/40 in the final innings. 2010 saw Salman Butt score a defiant century amidst a heavy defeat with 102 out of 301. Butt’s performance that year  curiously mirrored the preceding Test, in 2007, in which Jayawardene scored 104 out of 246, but even he was overshadowed by Sangakkara’s magnificent second innings 197, during which he added 120 runs in partnership with the number 9 and 10 batsmen.

The fifth most recent Test at Bellerive was against the West Indies, although the only members to remain from that 2005 visit are veterans Denesh Ramdin and Marlon Samuels. That team otherwise featured big names such as Lara, Gayle, Sarwan and Chanderpaul, but the only batsman to experience much joy in the match was Dwayne Bravo, who scored his maiden Test century, 113 out of 334.

The West Indies, then, can be sure in the knowledge that conditions are not so foreign or inhospitable as to feel they cannot succeed; at Blundstone Arena, visiting centurions have become as customary as inconvenient seasonal rain delays. The weather in the lead up to Thursday has been good, meaning a repeat of the 2011 green top on which Warner scored his maiden century is unlikely – the pitch has otherwise been good for batting, historically speaking, as 28 centuries in 11 Tests suggests.

Just as Kane Williamson’s defiant hundred in Brisbane kicked off New Zealand’s tour, the Caribbean tourists will look to their senior players to build partnerships and make good decisions as early as possible to set a precedent and a platform for success. It is safe to say these partnerships are most likely to be centered around captain Jason Holder and Darren Bravo, who will hope to follow in his half-brother’s footsteps at the ground a decade later. Their half centuries against the CA XI were the only two positive signs to come out of that embarrassing defeat.

Steven Smith, meanwhile, will be pleased at his side’s top order dominance over the Kiwi bowlers for most of the previous series – as well as the lower order resilience and ballast provided by Peter Nevill, whose technique and temperament belie his relative lack of international experience. He will thus be confident regardless of conditions or toss. Of the likely XI he will lead, only David Warner, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon and James Pattinson have played a Test here. With the exception of Lyon, all have enjoyed considerable success at the ground: Warner’s maiden century came in defeat against the Kiwis and may still be the most difficult circumstances in which he has cracked triple figures – enough to have earned the Man of the Match award despite losing. Pattinson, who should come into the side for Mitchell Starc, played in the same game and took eight wickets for the match including a first-innings 5-for. Siddle enjoyed his best ever Test bowling figures at the ground, too: a match haul of 9/104 in 2012.

So, while it is hard to look past Australia given the recent form of both sides, it’s clear that spectators can look forward to a wicket that rewards good skills in all disciplines. This means that if the West Indies have the character and belief to produce those skills, they may well catch an Australian side who will rightly expect to win unprepared. Whether they can dig that deep, however, remains to be seen.

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